|Magnificent goalkeeping from Owain Fôn Williams kept Indy Eleven alive under heavy pressure from Bethlehem Steel. Photo - Trevor Ruzkowski
By REBECCA TOWNSEND (aka The Pitch Bitch)
The tragedy happened in slow motion. The salvation happened in a heartbeat.
Host team Indy Eleven and visiting opponents Bethlehem Steel, both with playoff spots on the line, engaged in a physical match in which raw emotion between the players often surfaced as they scrapped for an advantage.
Indy had some bright moments. Captain Matt Watson managed a solid shot on goal. Reiner Ferreira sucked the life out of a virile Bethlehem counterattack with a solid block. And then there was brilliant work from Indy goalie Owain Fôn Williams after Steel midfielder and captain James Chambers and forward Faris Moumbunga unstitched Indy's entire field and looked to have an all-but-certain goal on tap. Not one to cave in the face of unkind odds, Fôn Williams not only deflected Moumbunga's point-blank shot, he also scrambled successfully to reject a second attempt made off the rebound.
Then, in the 39th minute, an ugly scene. Moumbugna streaked down the right flank as Carlyle Mitchell, the last Indy defender back, sprinted in to shut down the attack. Just as Mitchell closed the space, he crumpled to the turf clutching at what appeared to be a seized or pulled hamstring. Moumbugna paid no heed, seizing the 1-on-1 situation that had just unfolded between him and Fôn Williams. The keeper, caught off guard by the sudden lack of defensive pressure, could not shut down Moumbugna's angle and the visitors went up by one.
With so much on the line, one can hardly blame the man for capitalizing on the unexpected advantage. But still, watching the Steel celebrate, one couldn't help but think, "You feel proud of yourselves for that, do you? Shame on you."
Heading to the locker room at halftime, Indy trailed.
The setup for the Oct. 6 match could have hardly be more dramatic. The teams stood back-to-back on the United Soccer League's Eastern Conference standings table, both scrambling to secure a spot in the playoffs for the USL championship. Each team had earned a victory and suffered a loss in the two games they played against each other earlier in the season. Three points would secure that spot for Indy. A loss would make the situation much dicier.
Then tension was high the entire second half. Within the first few minutes, Steel midfielder Michee Ngalina tried to provoke a fight on a dead ball by aggressively pushing Indy's Ayoze in the chest. But cooler heads prevailed among the host side and Indy kept working.
Defensive midfielder Nico Matern had a solid attempt on goal rebuffed. But Indy continued pressing.
But then, in the infancy of the 61rst minute, the tension was broken by a play of unquestionable beauty. Whereas the tragedy unfolded in slow motion, Indy's salvation occurred with two strokes so swift and decisive, Bethlehem had no idea what hit them until they watched the replay.
Seconds after Indy's defensive disarmed a Steel attack, Ayoze took possession of the ball at the top his defensive third on the left flank and, after quickly zeroing in on his target, sent a 55-yard aerial ball across the field to the top right corner of the Steel's 18. Indy striker Eugene Starikov read the play as it unfolded and sprinted to connect. With a defender at his left shoulder and keeper Tomas Romero still in front of him, Starikov took one touch on the volley to chip Romero and send the ball into Bethlehem's goal for the equalizer.
Few things are more fun in soccer than watching the opposing keeper flying back into his own net, desperately clutching for a ball that is already past saving. The scene was the perfect remedy to the heartache endured in the first half.
The play also provided a positive end note for the conclusion of Indy Eleven's first season at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Boys in Blue have one final road match to play in the regular season. They will face Lousiville City FC next Saturday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m.